In these unprecedented times, we are all being challenged and are having to adapt to ever-changing circumstances. I’ve been heartened to see some of the amazing things Further Education colleges have been doing to support their students, staff and local communities up and down the country. From virtual lessons to manufacturing and donating equipment to hospitals, the resilience and community spirit I have seen has been truly inspiring.
AoC’s recent survey revealed that 95% of colleges reported that learners under 19 are continuing to learn. This is due to the commitment, hard work, leadership and innovation that the FE sector has shown. Another great example of this commitment is continuing with the delivery of T Levels in 2020 as planned. I was keen to understand the views of our wave one providers and I was able to speak to some of them myself to hear their perspective first-hand. While some have rightly raised issues, most wanted to continue to deliver the first T Levels this year, and their enthusiasm to do so was great to hear. I know how hard everybody involved has worked, both to help develop T Levels, and to get into a position to deliver them. We do not want that hard work to be wasted and neither do they. I am also determined that learners will not lose out on opportunities due to Covid-19. We owe it to young people to find ways to continue to deliver the courses that they have chosen and that will offer them great career opportunities in the future.
I firmly believe that T Levels are absolutely vital for businesses and the economy of this country. Government is leading the biggest reform to technical education that we have seen in 70 years. Now - more than ever - it will be vital to ensure that we provide a pipeline of skilled young people to help our businesses and economy to recover. Whilst many businesses are focused on making sure they can weather the current situation as best they can, to support future growth our reforms to technical education are vital.
I have seen some incredibly positive examples of the adaptability of our colleges in moving to an online world, conducting interviews, assessments and even open days online. However, I do not underestimate the difficulties and challenges that still lie ahead in continuing with delivery in the current climate. I am determined to ensure that both throughout 2020 and 2021, providers continue to receive the support that they need, and that we also adapt to meet these needs where we can. Now that the final T Level qualification material is available, the department is working hard to provide online support for curriculum planning, as well as implementation planning and industry placement guidance. Provider take up for these online sessions has been encouragingly strong. Lots of work has also been happening behind the scenes on capital and the Capacity and Delivery Fund to support workplace development and we are making sure to keep data and reporting requests to an absolute minimum.
Whilst I know colleges are facing challenges for a variety of reasons, the industry placement element of T Levels is understandably a key area of concern, as the impact of Covid-19 on businesses continues to unfold. Engagement from employers to deliver industry placements will be key and we will continue to offer targeted support to providers in order to make this happen. Before the outbreak, the National Apprenticeship Service had worked with over 16,000 employers as part of their industry placement matching service. We will continue to monitor the regional and industry challenges caused by Covid-19 and will target our support to ensure that businesses are able to offer placements where possible. We have also launched a package of employer support which includes guidance and webinars for employers on industry placements across all industries, which can be accessed here: https://www.employerindustryplacements.co.uk/
Later this year, we will be publishing industry placement delivery guidance providing practical information for providers and employers on high quality placements. We will then be running webinars with our providers to talk them through this guidance, as well as providing clarity on industry placements policy in advance of September.
I am hugely excited about the potential that T Levels have to transform young people’s lives. These qualifications are based on the best international examples of technical education and co-designed with industry leaders. They will ensure that young people really are receiving a high quality technical education which is career-led, enabling them to access great jobs or higher technical education. Our providers are the pioneers driving this new programme forward, showing what can be done; and I extend my thanks to them for their efforts to continue to deliver in September.
Gillian Keegan is the Apprenticeships and skills minister and the MP for Chichester